On 1 July 2013, ten years after filing its application to join the European Union, Croatia will officially become the 28th member state of the EU and the second member country from former Yugoslavia. Given the country’s size (0.33% of the GDP of the EU-28) and the political consensus on its membership, Croatia’s accession should pass relatively unnoticed. However, there are challenges posed by its entry. Indeed, at a time when the European Union is going through the worst crisis in its history, legitimate questions can be raised about whether Croatia is joining prematurely, particularly as it is experiencing its fifth successive year of recession. The latest OFCE Note (no. 27, 26 June 2013) reviews two of the country’s main weaknesses: first, a lack of competitiveness, and second, a level of corruption that is still far too high to guarantee steady and sustainable growth.
With 4.3 million inhabitants, Croatia initially experienced a period of strong economic growth up to 2008, based on the strength of its tourist industry and on consumption that was largely underpinned by lending from foreign capital. The crisis revealed, yet again, the limitations of this development model and highlighted the country’s structural weaknesses: a high level of dependence on foreign capital, the vulnerability of a system of (quasi) fixed exchange rates, an unfavourable environment for investment and wide-scale tax evasion.
Even though negotiations thankfully addressed some of these problems, others are still unresolved. For instance, with respect to the economy, the domestic market is still not open enough to competition, with the result that the country suffers from a lack of competitiveness. At the legal level, the progress made in the fight against corruption, tax evasion and the underground economy has been woefully inadequate, depriving the country of the foundations for robust growth. Following on the heels of Romania and Bulgaria, the entry of Croatia may unfortunately endorse the idea that curbing corruption is not a prerequisite for joining the EU. In view of the repeated institutional crises that have hit the European Union since 2009 and widespread Euroscepticism, it is now urgent for the EU to makes its priority deepening rather than widening.